A Forgotten Transmission From The Anarchist International
The following text is the transcription of a recording of a lecture given at the The New School for Social Research in New York City on May 6th, 2011. The lecture was part of the Anarchist Turn conference. The New School for Social Research played host to the first instance of the rhetoric and tactics of “occupy everything” appearing in the United States in December of 2008. The school was briefly occupied before being crushed by the police. Since then, the rhetoric and tactics of occupation have become the norm in the US and the western world.
Shortly before this lecture, a similar talk was given in San Francisco, California on April 30th, 2011. The majority of the people who attended this event described the supposed authors of The Coming Insurrection as being “ass holes” and “dicks.” The supposed authors offered no apology or seemed to care about the reactions of the people around them. This perhaps caused one native Mission resident to remark, “just because someone expresses themselves poorly and comes from France it doesn’t mean they are somehow secretly saying something profound.” The unintentional profundity of his remark cannot be overstated.
After leaving the US, a similar but vastly augmented lecture was given at the third Babylonia Festival in Athens, Greece on May 30th, 2011. While the Invisible Committee were speaking to a large audience inside an underfunded and disintegrating university, thousands of people had begun filling up Syntagma Square. The occupation movement that sprang up over the next month was to end with the MAT brutally crushing it as the government made its deal with the IMF and the Troika up above in the Parliament. But before that happened, a lone member of the supposed Invisible Committee gave a lecture to a group of people in Athens who were then able to step outside of the university halls and into the new world context that had been predicted by the authors in 2007.
With the release of this text we wish to make our first official public announcement:
We are a diffuse conglomeration of reincarnated anarchists (or souls) that reoccur throughout linear time. Our intention is to analyze and encourage what we view as positive developments in the struggle against the world capitalist system and linear time. We view the population of the world as the only ally with whose support we can achieve our objectives. We believe the majority of the world population no longer wishes to remain enslaved to the global system or capitalist time. All anarchists who aid the world population in their liberation are our comrades.
NEW YORK CITY, May 6th, 2011, 6:15 PM
…the layout of a town like New York, pinnacle of the petty-organic-hipster-bourgeoisie, captures intensities and vitalities in order to chew them up, digest them and shit out value.
Also, if everyday capitalism triumphs, it’s not merely because it crushes, exploits, represses, but also because it is desirable. This must be kept in mind when building a revolutionary movement.
There is a war…uh…a civil war, that is permanent and global. Two things prevent us from understanding it, from perceiving it. First, that there is a deep sense of denial of the very fact of confrontation is still a part of this confrontation. Then, that despite all the new pros of…uh…various geo-political specialists, the meaning of this war is not understood. Everything that is said about the asymetric shape of the so-called new wars only adds to the confusion. The ongoing war of which we speak of has a Napoleonic magnificence of regular wars between two great armies of man, between two antagonistic classes. Because if there is an asymmetry in the confrontation, it is less between the forces present than over the very definition of the war itself.
That is why we can’t talk about social war, because if social war is a war that is led against us, it cannot symmetrically describe the war the we wage from our side, and vice verca. We have to think again the words, themselves, in order to forge new concepts as weapons.
We call hostility what governs, almost fully, the relationships between beings. Relationships that are pure estrangement, pure incompatibility between bodies. It can take the shape of benevolence or malevolence, but it is always a distance. “I beat you down because I’m a cop and you’re shit. I invite you to the restaurant because I want to fuck you. I leave you the bill because I don’t know how to tell you how much I hate you. I don’t stop smiling.” I think you see what hostility means, right?
We need to add towards the sphere of hostility the same non-relationship that it imposes within itself. That is to say, it’s all about reducing it, of taking aim, and annihilating it. To say it differently, empire is not a subject that is in front of me but a milieu that is hostile to me. It can’t be a question of being victorious over it, only of annihilating it.
All that we learn to know singularly escapes from the sphere of the non-relationship. All that gives rise to circulation of affects escapes the sphere of hostility. It is what friendship is about. It is what enmity is about. That’s why we don’t try to crush any enemies, we try to confront them. “My enemy is my own question taking shape,” said a horrible jurist.
In this confrontation, it’s less existence that is at stake than it is potentiality. All means are not equally useful in the confrontation between two political positions. To say it differently, a political enemy is not to be crushed, it must be overcome. Distinguishing the sphere of hostility from the one of friendship and enmity lends to a certain ethic of war.
For the anarchist, the paradox of the current historical situation could be formulated like this: Everything proved them right, and nowhere did they manage to intervene in a decisive way. Which means that the obstacle does not come from the situation or from the repression but from the very inside of the anarchist position. For more than a century, the figure of the anarchist indicates the most extreme point of western civilization. The anarchist is the point where the most hardline reformation of all the western fictions, the individual, freedom, free will, justice, the death of god, coincide with the most declamatory negation. The anarchist is a western negation of the west.
Schürmann rightly characterized our time as a deeply anarchical one, a time where all the principles of the unification of the phenomenons collapsed. Anarchy tells our epochal situation. From there, calling oneself an anarchist is to say nothing. It means whether, when directed against the dominant order as it is the case in Greece, for instance, a way to expose to everyone the inert split and malaise of civilization. Or [unknown] all the tiring chattering of the particular anarchist literature is held to this: how to violently affirm that we exist without ever affirming any single ethical content. Those who said “there are no nihilists, there’s only impotence,” were not mistaken. To claim oneself a nihilist is only claiming ones impotence.
Isolation is a cause for impotence way more dreadful than repression. Those…[coughing]…sorry…who don’t let themselves be isolated do not not let themselves become reduced to impotence. Malatesta had understood that well in his time.
All the doctrines of governing are anarchist doctrines. They do not trouble themselves with any principle, they do not prescribe order, they produce order. This world is not unified a priori by some sumptuous fantasy, by some universal norm or principle that will be posed or imposed. This world is unified a posteriori, pragmatically, locally. Everywhere are organized the material, symbolic, logistical, repressive conditions of an as if. Everywhere, in every locality, everything goes as if life obeyed this principle, this norm, compatible with the other localities. It is how empire covers globally the anarchy of our times. We manage. We manage phenomenally.
This is what testifies to the insurrectional movements of the last years, in Maghreb, in Europe, or in Asia, and that is precisely why they are meant to waste the point of anarchists. The contemporary figure of the man without qualities that we call the Bloom is struck by what we must call an ethical impotence. It cannot leave one particular thing without worrying about missing everything else. It never is here without his own being here being doubled by the anxiety of not being everywhere else, too. That is why so much of all those can be reduced to technological apparatuses: through our cell phones, internet, global transportation. Without these prosthesis, he will collapse on the spot. New York, as the absolute metropolis, condenses this experience where the price of not missing anything is to not leave anything.
Anarchism is a spontaneous political consciousness of the Bloom. The ambition to deny everything is what legitimates to never fully deny something and thus to start to affirm something singular. The desperate conservatism that presently spread in the political sphere expresses our inability to comprehend the ethical underpinnings implicit to western civilization. We need to settle up with the muted and knotted totality of what underlines all of our actions, words, feelings and representations. But the scale of such a task is such for an isolated individual that, in the end, any stupid affirmation of any neo-conservatism is always more reassuring.
The current fallback towards the most dogmatic, ideological forms of anarchism or communism, towards a fictitious radical political identity come from the same fear to show oneself in the unknown of such an adventure.
It is necessary to do away with the reigning confusion. One of the main flaws of the revolutionary movement is to still be imprisoned in faulty positions, or worse, to force ourselves to think in the shackles of these false alternatives. Activism or wait-and-see. The great evening of the process. Vanguard or mass-movement. We say false not because it will not express actual differences, on the contrary, but because it transforms all decisive questions into a binary, unsatisfying, paralyzing alternative. This said, to debate around the necessity to create ones little own oasis or to wait for the insurrection to come, before creating troubles within the radical milieu, was firstly a theological question.
One could wait for the coming of the messiah, staying at the very position god gave him, or one could pretend to fasten the second coming. There is another way of a different nature. There is a messianic time that is the abolition of the time that passes, rupture of the continuum of history, the end of waiting. That also means there are sparks mixed with the filthy blackness of reality. It means there exists some messianic, that the kingdom is not merely to come, but already, by fragments, here, among us.
What we say is that it is not more urgent to act than it is urgent to wait. Because we want to get organized, we have time. We do not think there is any outside to capitalism, but we do not think that reality is capitalist. Communism is a practice that starts from the sparks from those forms-of-life. We said “all power to the communes”. A commune is never something given, it is not what is here, it is what takes place. The commune is not two people who meet, or ten people buying a farm. A commune is two people who meet to become three, to become four, to become a thousand. The only question for the commune is its own potentiality, its constant becoming. It is a practical question. To become a war-machine or collapse in a milieu? To end up alone or begin to love each other? The commune does not enunciate what we organize but how we organize ourselves, which is always at the same time a material question. A commune is only as it becomes.
There is no preliminary to communism. Those who believe the contrary, after pursuing its finality, only achieve to fall into the accumulation of the means. Communism is not a different way to distribute the wealth, to organize production, or to manage society. Communism is an ethical disposition, a disposition that lets itself be affected by the contact of beings, by what we have in common. Communism is as much the beyond and below of capitalist misery.
What we put behind this word communism, is radically opposed to all who use, and used it, to its current dislocation. War also passes through words.
How many times, in activist circles, have we had these dead end discussions? What are we fighting against? You just have to raise the issue and everyone will go for their own petty fantasy that will in the last result subsume all the others. “What we need to confront is patriarchy. No, it’s racism. No, it’s capitalism. No, it’s exploitation and alienation is only a part of it. No, it’s alienation and exploitation is only a part of it.” The finest theologians even managed to build a small activist trinity that articulates a triple oppression: sexism, racism, and capitalism. All the good will of the world was never permitted to decisively answer this question. That sums up pretty well the impotence to which our full conception condemns us.
When we’re looking for an enemy we start by projecting ourselves on an abstract scene where the world has disappeared. Let’s ask ourselves the same question…hold on…sorry…let’s ask ourselves the same question, but starting from the neighborhood where we live, from the company where we work, from the professional sector we are familiar with. Then the answer is clear. The front lines can be distinctly seen. Who is on what side can be easily determined.
And that is because the question of the confrontation, the properly political question, only makes sense in a given world, in a substantial world. The cybernetic philosopher or the metropolitan hipster is a political question. The political question never makes sense to him. It refuses itself to him, endlessly walking backwards into abstraction. And that is the price to pay for so much superficiality. As a compensation, he would prefer to juggle with some great folkloric significance, to give himself some post-maoist or pro-situationist thrills, or to accommodate his nothings with the latest glosses of the ultra-left laboratory.
To all the metaphysical principles overhanging reality, Schürmann opposed a faithfulness to the phenomena. That is also what we need to oppose to the political impotence. Because, besides a few harrowing moments, it’s over the ordinary, the daily, that the anarchist breaks itself. There we experience the disjunction between the political and the sensible that is the disastrous background of classical politics. The powerful thing that we leave, leave us mute and what we experience in terms of silence that manifests failures we have no words for. Only the anarchist gesture sometimes comes to save its prolific consistency. But doing this gesture, we only obey an order corresponding to our anarchist identity. That we have to, from time to time, obey our identity to realize our discursive existence tells a lot about the poverty or our worlds.
Identity politics captures us in the negation of all the implicit, all the invisible, all the unheard that makes the frame of the world. We’ve called this the ethical element. Wittgenstein talked about forms of life.
It’s on the basis of everyday life, of the ordinary, that the war against this world must be conceived. From Oaxaca to Keretea, from the Susa Valley to Sidi Bouzid, from Exarchia to Kablliah, the great battles of our time emanate from a local consistency. A street vendor who self-immolates in front of the local administration after being slapped in public by a police woman, expresses the implicit and adiscursive affirmation of a form-of-life. This gesture of negation contains a clear affirmation that this life does not deserve to be lived. At root, it was the power of this affirmation that took over Tunisia.
Genoa…the riots in Genoa…would never have been such a summit without the rebellious Genovese proletarians. To say that the war against Empire arises from everyday life, from the ordinary, that it emanates from the ethical element, is to propose a new concept of war stripped of all its military contents. In case..in any case…it is coming to see for the last ten years the strategy of all the western armies as well as China…as well…as…what is going on?
In any case, it is comical to see for the last ten years the strategies of all the western armies, as well as the Chinese army, approximate a concept which, for reasons of the forms-of-life, escapes them. Its enough to see a special forces soldiers speak of the battle of hearts and minds to understand that they have already lost. Its an asymmetrical war not because of the forces that are present but because the insurgents and counter-insurgents are not waging the same war. This is why the notion of social war is inadequate. It gives rise to the fatal illusion of symmetry in the conflict with this society, that this battle takes place over the same representation of reality. If there actually is an asymmetric war between people and governments it is because what sets us apart is an asymmetry in the very definition of war. We welcome, in passing, the nomination of General Petreaus to the head of the CIA. It no doubt ushers an impassioned decade in the United States.
It has been four years since the publication of The Coming Insurrection. It was, at the time, crazy but also rational to pose the insurrection as the worlds origin. One could say that the present period has confirmed this analysis. A social movement like that of the anti-CPE protest in France adopted as its slogan “blockade everything.” An entire country like Greece saw the insurrection coming so it ultimately bore it over the course of a month. Not to mention Tunisia, Egypt, or Libya where the determination, even unspoken, to destroy the structures of power remains…remain exemplary, for sure. There are still too few heads of the state sunning themselves in Saudi Arabia, away from the countries they once presumed to lead.
But something is definitely accelerating.
[coughing in audience]
One has only to look around to see the content of this book is realizing itself, but at the same time it withers. Its limits are becoming apparent. The movement provides the only admissible critique of the text…uh…uh…or its historical impact. “The field of tactics is always the domain of the counter-revolution,” one said. And so, we understand. When we are forced onto the field of tactics, when we are only a little step ahead, when we chase after events as they happen, we can no…[very fast and hardly discernible] we can longer act in a revolutionary way. Sorry.
At the present moment, in order to no longer be forced into the field of tactics, we must overcome the question of the insurrection. That is to say, we must take this origin as given and begin to think and act on that basis. We must take the insurrectionary situation as our starting point, even now, even here, when it is counter-insurrection that dominates reality.
In this regard, we locate two crucial questions which pose themselves to the revolutionary movement. First, that of the exit from the framework of government. Since its origin in Greece, politics has carried within itself a metaphysics of order. It begins from the premise that man must be governed, either democratically by themselves or hierarchically by others. The same anthropologies underlie the notions of the individualist anarchist who wants to express his own passions fully or govern himself and that of the pessimist for whom man is a hungry beast who will devour his neighbors if only he could only free himself from the binding power of government. Various political positions organize themselves…[loud coughing in audience]…ultimately according to the answers proposed to this question. The question of the governments, of human beings and their passions, all rooted in a readily discernible notion of human nature.
But in fact, the question of government only poses itself in a void. One must produce enough of a void around the individual, or even in him, or within society, to produce a space sufficiently devoid of content, in order to wonder how to arrange those disparate, disconnected elements. Those of the self as much as those of society.
If we have a politics to advance, it is one which begins from an opposite hypothesis. There is no void. Everything is already inhabited. We are, each of us, points of intersection, quantities of affects, of families, of histories that fundamentally exceed us. The point is not to constitute a void in which we finally begin to recover everything that eludes us but rather that we already have the means to organize, to play, to form links and bonds.
There is an open battle between, on the one hand, this fear, at once senile and childish, that we can only leave on the condition of being governed and, on the other hand, an inhabited politics which dismisses the question of government all-together.
From the Tunisian situation, from attempts to block economic flows in France, or from the coming insurrection latent in Greece, we learn that one cannot separate the tearing down of power from the material establishment of organization. Everywhere when power falters, the same chasm opens before our feet. How is it to be done? We have to figure it out materially but also technically. How can we effect…yeah…how can we effect a shocking exit from the existing order, a complete reversal of the social relationship, a new way of being in the world. We could think it is a paradox, but it is not.
All power to the communes. Tear down power globally, locally. Wherever it captures, manages, and controls us. It means to organize, by and for ourselves, first of all in the neighborhoods, cities, and regions, food, transportation, healthcare, energy. In any case, we need to find the level at which we can act without recreating the power that we only just deposed. The commune is not a form, but rather a way of posing problems that dissolves them. And so the revolutionary imperative reduces itself to a simple formula: to become unconvertible, and to remain that way.
It is from this horizon, for example, that we can understand the failure of the recent movement of pensioners in France. By blocking the infrastructure that regulated the country rather than…than begging…uh, uh…the government with demands…
[turns pages and whispers]
…yeah…rather than begging for reform or anything, the movement implicitly recognized that it is a physical organization of society that constitutes its real power. By blocking the circulation of commodities rather than occupying the factories, the movement took leave of the classical workers perspective which understood the strike as a prelude to the occupation of the sites of production, and the occupation of the sites of production as a prelude to their takeover by the working class. The people who made the blockades were not only those who were working in the places that were blocked, but also multiple crews of teachers, students, and trade unionists, workers from all from all sectors and trouble-makers of every kind. The blockade was not a prelude to an economic re-appropriation, but a political act in each [unknown] the sabotage takes aim at the social machine as a wall.
Nevertheless, this movement was defeated. Whether this was because of the intervention by unions or because of the architectural flows of networks [unknown] and rapid reorganization in the case of interruption, the gas supply in France, which the movement spontaneously chose to target, could not be permanently blocked.
One could go on and on about the weakness of the movement. That which is certain is that it didn’t have a sufficient knowledge of that which it tried to block.
This example suffices to understand that we must henceforth understand the materiality of domination. Everything that organizes…er…
We must investigate, we must research, we must go search and above all share and propagate all the necessary information about the functioning of the capitalist machine. How is it fed by energy, information, arms and food?
To understand that, what we need to understand is…what do we want to…in the situation where everything is suspended, in the state of exception, what do we turn off, what do we transform, what do we maintain?
Refusing to pose this question today means that we will be obliged to come back to a normal situation, if only to survive. We can believe that such an investigation, having reached a certain degree of reality, will not fail to produce a scandal…[mumbles]…as big as the threat it poses to the functioning of everything. Contrarily, to the amusing thought of Wikileaks, it is a sharing and diffusing of accessible information to everyone which hollows them to feed off or consequently paralyzes a country.
In a world of lies, the lie can never be defeated by its contrary, it can only be defeated by a world of truth. We don’t want a program. We want to constitute a science of apparatuses that at the same time reveals the structures and weaknesses of the organization of a world and indicate practicable tasks outside of the current hell. We need fictions, or a reason to the world, which will allow us to hang on, which will give us breath.
When the moment comes, we must be ready.
[whispers for ten seconds]
If we have come here to talk, it is only because we have been persuaded of this. We must be done with radicalism and its meager comfort now. The intellectual, the academic, both remain mesmerized by the contradictions of the [unknown]. By never beginning from their own situation, intellectuals distance themselves from their world so much that it’s intelligence itself that abandons them.
If hipsters exceed in perceiving the world with precision and subtlety, it is only to aestheticize the sensible even further, which is to say, to keep it at a distance, to contemplate their life, their beautiful soul and their bike, to promote their own impotence, their particular autism which expresses itself in the valorization of even the tiniest aspect of life.
[single loud cough from audience]
Meanwhile, the activist, in refusing to think, in adopting the ethic of a little manager who runs screaming into every single wall before him, finally collapsing into cynicism. To take part…if taking part is the only option in war, the lines that are offered to us, visibly, are not the ones we should follow. We have to display them in order to move ourselves in between them.
Whether it is a Marxist theologian or the anarchist anti-intellectual, the identitarian moralist or the playfully transgressive hipster, all of this is an apparatus. We have said enough what we want to do with apparatuses. Each of these figures, the hipsters, the academics, the political activists, express as much a singular attachment to a power as…a common…amputation.
And here we see, and maybe while we’re here [now], the fundamental division on which western civilization has been built. That is, the separation between the gesture, the thought, and life.
If one wondered what Tiqqun means, it could mean, for instance, here…uh…letting ourselves…uh, uh…being comfortable in those very splits, in those very amputations. But rather, starting from those very attachments, those very bonds. Thinking, acting, living. How to maintain this, instead of being separated in figures; the hipster, the academic, the activist. All of this could be the plane of consistency that will actually enable us to draw lines that are way more interesting than the line between those figures.
[long pause and coughing from audience]
If the life of militant radicals in western societies show the dissatisfaction proper to our revolutionary existence without a revolution, the recent uprisings in Maghreb attest to an insufficience of revolution without revolutionaries. That is, the necessity of building the party. Building the party not as an organization, but as a plane of circulation, of common intelligence, of strategic thinking, just as much of local consistencies.
There is threat that weigh on all attacks starting from singular worlds, and its that they remain incompressible by lack of translation. The party must be that agent of faithful translation of local phenomena, a force of mutual knowledge of experiences and their weight. And it must be global.
What we need to do is…uh…
I don’t know.
[Laughter from audience]
[Laughs and breaths deeply]
What is at stake is how we’re able to flee and keep our weapons. What is at stake is how we extract ourselves from the milieus in which we are stuck, whether it is a university or the anarchist scene. A lot of people here have always wondered about the very situation here, saying, “Oh, but there is no situation here.” There is no “no situation.” It does not exist. And for sure, what we need to start from, we need to run into the first world we encounter, to follow the first line of power that we get to and then everything follows. We just need to get organized and not leave the territory to militias.
[Applause from audience]
[Mumbling in French]
Alright, what we thought…uh, uh…because doing question and answer is kind of weird for us…uh…like being like some of central authority or whatever. So maybe what we thought would be maybe nicer is that it seems there is wine and time and so, for sure, I mean, if you understood something of this badly translated thing that we said…uh,uh…the issues are not only just the issues are addressed to us, they are the issues that we think…uh,uh…belong, are addressed to all of us, so it probably will make way more sense that we have a…like…a general discussion rather us answering I don’t know what question.
Does that make sense? Or…
[Affirmation from audience]
You know, what we’re interested in, in coming here, is to build the party. Not to be here, in itself. We think there is a possibility to build the party here, tonight. Maybe not, but we would not have come if we didn’t think so.
[Audience begins to mingle]
[Speaking in French]
[Audience chatter increases in volume]